"Hey Julie," came the email from my System Paver's rep and new BFF, Beth Froelicher,"Would you like to be my guest at the Bay Area Renovation Awards on Wednesday evening? We have a good shot at winning!"
Beth was referring to the stunning garden project she and her hard-working crew from System Pavers installed last year in my garden here in Oakland (designed by Chris Ford of CFLA). It included not just stone pathways and a new driveway, but a complete outdoor kitchen, a large two-tiered patio with stone columns, and a gas-burning fireplace as well. Even by my standards, it was an ambitious and complicated project, so I was flattered to hear that it had been submitted for an award. (Of course, I want to go! Thank you for thinking of me.)
In fact, it turned out so well that I was approached to be a participant for the annual CSL Heart of the Home Tour last spring. And for those of you who have ever been asked and are on the fence, (a gardening reference to be sure, because why not?) there's nothing like inviting a few thousand people to walk through your property that prioritizes those overdue "repairs" quite like a MASSIVE public viewing!
In any case, I was happy to help raise funds for a great cause (see below) and I'm relieved that they asked me LAST year, because THIS year, I've got a BIG blue tarp on my house, covering my wrap-around porch, and I am definitely not alone. I've spied more than a few blue tarps around the neighborhood, so I'm not the only one in emergency mode. (As a short-term "fix," a tarp will do, but as a long-term solution? Not so much.)
It seems that the construction on a section under the porch doesn't slope away from the building as it should. As a result, the rain pools under the deck and sits on the flat surface until it finds a way to escape. Thus, we've developed a pesky leak in my mother-in-law's garden apartment, which has gone from simply irritating to a wet, sloppy mess. Oh, and did I mention, that damage from rain is probably NOT covered by insurance? (That hasn't stopped me from making a claim you understand, just in case.) Ughhh!!!
Of course, it didn't help that I've waited too long to repair the leak, citing the inconvenience to Zee, the added expense, and the upcoming storms as all legitimate reasons for not attacking the problem sooner. (Right???) Which isn't to say that I did nothing, but that the solutions the original contractor devised were merely band-aids and clearly, didn't address the real issues at all, which is incorrect construction and poor water-proofing from the start . . . but that's another story for another day.
Cut to: a new contractor, ripped-out drywall, soggy insulation, and a dismantled porch while we wait for studs to dry out before we rebuild. (That's no fun at all.)
But beyond my "poor me" pity party, what's my point?
The point is (grasshopper), that homes - like gardens - aren't static by nature as NATURE has a way of gaining the upper hand. Wind, rain, hail, snow, lightning, underground water, creeping soil, trees, and all manner of "natural" elements can, and DO create havoc on our homes, especially when we have an extended deluge, as we did last week. (Quick, get the buckets and some towels!)
Still, it could be much worse. A month ago, I looked at a "contractor's special" on tour that had so much rot, the roof was essentially gone, as were several of the floor boards and joists below. (It had been leaking for years (!!!), not weeks.) In fact, it was so dangerous, that REALTORS were required to sign a release prior to going inside. In short, left untended, small problems can(and DO!) escalate over time into HUGE expenses and less than ideal living situations.
So apart from an annual spring cleaning (seriously, throw out or donate all the stuff you no longer use or need! You'll thank me later.), now is a great time to take stock of some of the "deferred maintenance" you've been putting off to create a punch list, AND then, call someone to help you tackle the "To Dos!" (The calling for help is the important part in this scenario.) Listen, if we're willing to have our cars serviced every 10,000 miles or so, shouldn't we do the same for our homes? (Why yes, we should.)
Unfortunately, our houses don't light up the way our cars do with a bright red "maintenance required!" symbol on the dash board. (That reminds me, I've got to get the truck in for its tune-up.) So it's up to us to be aware of the changes in our home and then to act upon any indications that things might need attention. (Hint: mold IS a red flag, as are bubbling paint, cracks in the walls, clogged gutters, standing water . . . I'm just sayin'.)
According to nearly every online source I researched, homeowners will spend $2,000-$10,000 annually on home maintenance and should save more in a separate bank account for larger ticket items such as new roofs, drainage, windows, and other major repairs that present less often, but will undoubtedly show up at some point in time. In fact, every article recommended saving 1% of your purchase price for repairs on an annual basis! (They couldn't have factored in Bay Area prices into that equation, could they?) Welcome to the world of home ownership.
Remember, homeowners' insurance is for emergencies only, (Don't ask why rain damage doesn't qualify as an emergency; I have no idea.) and certainly, insurance doesn't cover replacing roofs and ongoing replacements/repairs that ALL homes will require over time. . . In any case, I'm taking the experts' advice and opening up an account today so that next year, I hopefully won't have to face this problem again (during tax season, no less), but if I do, I won't wipe out my savings account to pay for it. Honestly, the timing could not have been worse.
Uhhhh, well yes it could; how 'bout if it had happened last year, one week before the tour? (Okay, that would have been much worse.)
Given that for most of us, our homes represent our single, largest asset, keeping our properties fit and in good working order doesn't just make good sense, it makes GOOD CENTS! (You feel me?)
Oh, BTW, my garden won for best "Residential Landscape Design/Outdoor Living." (Woo-hoo!) Good thing the voting committee didn't drive by my house today, but relied on last year's tarpless photos instead!
How can I help you?
(Under the heading of "Misery Loves Company," send me your house horror stories. I'd love to hear them.)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.